Santana is the primary exponent of Latin-tinged rock, particularly due to its combination of Latin percussion (congas, timbales, etc.) with bandleader Carlos Santana’s distinctive, high-pitched lead guitar playing. The group was the last major act to emerge from the psychedelic San Francisco music scene of the 1960s and it enjoyed massive success at the end of the decade and into the early ‘70s. The musical direction then changed to a more contemplative and jazzy style as the band’s early personnel gradually departed, leaving the name in the hands of Carlos Santana, who guided the group to consistent commercial success over the next quarter-century. By the mid-‘90s, Santana seemed spent as a commercial force on records, though the group continued to attract audiences for its concerts worldwide. But the band made a surprising and monumental comeback in 1999 with Supernatural, an album featuring many guest stars that became Santana’s best-selling release and won a raft of Grammy Awards.
Mexican-native Carlos Santana (born in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico) moved to San Francisco in the early ‘60s, by which time he was already playing the guitar professionally. In 1966, he formed The Santana Blues Band with keyboard player and singer Gregg Rolie and other musicians, the personnel changing frequently. The group was given its name due to a musician’s union requirement that a single person be named a band’s leader and it did not at first indicate that Carlos was in charge. Bass player David Brown joined early on, as did Carlos’ high school friend, conga player Mike Carabello, though he did not stay long at first. By mid-1967, the band’s lineup consisted of Carlos, Rolie, Brown, drummer Bob “Doc” Livingston, and percussionist Marcus Malone. The name was shortened simply to Santana and the group came to the attention of promoter Bill Graham, who gave it its debut at his Fillmore West Theater on June 16, 1968. Santana was signed to Columbia Records, which sent producer David Rubinson to tape the band at a four-night stand at the Fillmore West December 19-22, 1968. The results were not released until almost 30 years later, when Columbia/Legacy issued Live at the Fillmore 1968 in 1997.
Livingston and Malone left the lineup in 1969 and were replaced by Carabello and drummer Michael Shrieve, with a second percussionist, Jose “Chepito” Areas, making Santana a sextet. The band recorded its self-titled debut album and began to tour nationally, making an important stop at the Woodstock festival on August 15, 1969. Santana was released the same month. It peaked in the Top Five, going on to remain in the charts over two years, sell over two million copies, and spawn the Top 40 single “Jingo” and the Top Ten single “Evil Ways”. Santana’s performance of “Soul Sacrifice” was a highlight of the documentary film Woodstock and its double-platinum soundtrack album, which appeared in 1970. The band’s second album, Abraxas, was released in September 1970 and was even more successful than its first. It hit number one, remaining in the charts more than a-year-and-a-half and eventually selling over four million copies while spawning the Top Five hit “Black Magic Woman” and the Top Ten hit “Oye Como Va”. By the end of the year, the group had added a seventh member, teenage guitarist Neal Schon.
Santana’s third album, Santana III, was performed by the seven band members, though several guest musicians were also mentioned in the credits, notably percussionist Coke Escovedo, who played on all the tracks. Released in September 1971, the album was another massive hit, reaching number one and eventually selling over two million copies while spawning the Top Ten hit “Everybody’s Everything” and the Top 20 hit “No One to Depend On”. But it marked the end of the Woodstock-era edition of Santana, which broke up at the end of the tour promoting it, with Carlos retaining rights to the band name.
Following a tour with Buddy Miles that resulted in a live duo album (Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles! Live!), Carlos reorganized Santana and recorded the fourth Santana band album, Caravanserai, on which each track featured individual musician credits. From the previous lineup, Rolie, Shrieve, Areas, and Schon appeared, alongside pianist Tom Coster, percussionist James Mingo Lewis, percussionist Armando Peraza, guitarist/bassist Douglas Rauch, and percussionist Rico Reyes, among others. (Rolie and Schon left to form Journey.) The album was released in September 1972; it peaked in the Top Five and was eventually certified platinum. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance with Vocal Coloring.
Carlos, who had become a disciple of the guru Sri Chinmoy and adopted the name Devadip (meaning “the eye, the lamp, and the light of God”), next made a duo album with John McLaughlin, guitarist with the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Love Devotion Surrender). Meanwhile, the lineup of Santana continued to fluctuate. On Welcome, the band’s fifth album, released in November 1973, it consisted of Carlos, Shrieve, Areas, Coster, Peraza, Rauch, keyboard player Richard Kermode, and singer Leon Thomas. The album went gold and peaked in the Top 20. In May 1974, Lotus, a live album featuring the same lineup, was released only in Japan. (It was issued in the U.S. in 1991.) Carlos continued to alternate side projects with Santana band albums, next recording a duo LP with John Coltrane’s widow Alice Coltrane (Illuminations). Columbia decided to cash in on the band’s diminishing popularity by releasing Santana's Greatest Hits in July 1974. The compilation peaked in the Top 20 and eventually went double platinum.
The sixth new Santana album, Borboletta, followed in October. The band personnel for the LP featured Carlos, Shrieve, Areas, Coster, Peraza, a returning David Brown, saxophonist Jules Broussard, and singer Leon Patillo, plus guest stars Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, and Stanley Clarke. Borboletta peaked in the Top 20 and eventually went gold. Carlos steered Santana back to a more commercial sound in the mid-‘70s in an attempt to stop the eroding sales of the band’s albums. He enlisted Santana’s original producer, David Rubinson, to handle the next LP. The band was streamlined to a sextet consisting of himself, Coster, Peraza, Brown, drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler (Shrieve having departed to work with Stomu Yamashta), and singer Greg Walker.
The result was Amigos, released in March 1976, which returned Santana to the Top Ten and went gold. The band was back only nine months later with another Rubinson production, Festival, for which Santana consisted of Carlos, Coster, returning members Jose “Chepito” Areas and Leon Patillo, drummer Gaylord Birch, percussionist Raul Rekow, and bass player Pablo Telez. This album peaked in the Top 40 and went gold.
Never having issued a live album in the U.S., Santana made up for the lapse with Moonflower, released in October 1977, for which the band consisted of Carlos, Coster, Areas, Rekow, Telez, returning member Greg Walker, percussionist Pete Escovedo, drummer Graham Lear, and bass player David Margen. The album peaked in the Top Ten and eventually went platinum, its sales stimulated by the single release of a revival of the Zombie’ “She’s Not There” that peaked in the Top 20, Santana's first hit single in nearly six years.
Turning to producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, Santana returned to the studio for Inner Secrets, released in October 1978. The revamped lineup this time was Carlos, Rekow, Walker, Lear, Margen, returning members Coke Escovedo and Armando Peraza, keyboard player Chris Rhyne, and guitarist/keyboard player Chris Solberg. The album was quickly certified gold, and a revival of the Classics IV hit “Stormy” made the Top 40, but Inner Secrets peaked disappointingly below the Top 20. Once again adopting his guru name of Devadip, Carlos issued his first real solo album (Oneness/Silver Dreams - Golden Reality) in February 1979. Marathon, the tenth Santana band studio album, followed in September, produced by Keith Olsen, the band here being Carlos, Rekow, Lear, Margen, Peraza, Solberg, singer Alex Ligertwood, and keyboard player Alan Pasqua. The album equaled the success of Inner Secrets, peaking outside the Top 20 but going gold, with “You Know That I Love You” becoming a Top 40 single. Again, Carlos followed in the winter with another solo effort (the Swing of Delight).
Santana (Carlos, Rekow, Lear, Margen, Peraza, Ligertwood, keyboard player Richard Baker, and percussionist Orestes Vilato) spent some extra time on its next release, not issuing Zebop! until March 1981, and the extra effort paid off. Paced by the Top 20 single “Winning”, the album reached the Top Ten and went gold. The band lavished similar attention on Shango, which was released in August 1982. The same lineup as that on Zebop! was joined by original member Gregg Rolie, who also co-produced the album. A music video helped Santana enjoy its first Top Ten single in more than a decade with “Hold On”, but that did not translate into increased sales for the album, which peaked in the Top 20 but became the band’s first LP not to at least go gold. Carlos followed with another solo album (Havana Moon), but did not release a new Santana band album until February 1985 with Beyond Appearances, produced by Val Garay. By now the lineup consisted of Carlos, Rekow, Peraza, Ligertwood, Vilato, returning member Greg Walker, bass player Alphonso Johnson, keyboard player David Sancious, drummer Chester C. Thompson, and keyboard player Chester D. Thompson. “Say It Again”, the album’s single, reached the Top 40, but that was better than the LP did.
Santana staged a 20-year anniversary reunion concert in August 1986 featuring many past bandmembers. The February 1987 album Freedom marked the formal inclusion of Buddy Miles as a member of Santana, alongside Carlos, Rekow, Peraza, Vilato, Johnson, Chester D. Thompson, and returning members Tom Coster and Graham Lear. The album barely made the Top 100. Carlos followed in the fall with another solo album (Blues for Salvador), winning his first Grammy Award in the process (Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the title track). In 1988, he added Wayne Shorter to the band for a tour, then put together a reunion edition of Santana that featured Areas, Rolie, and Shrieve beside Johnson, Peraza, and Thompson. In October, Columbia celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the band’s signing to the label with the retrospective Viva Santana! The next new Santana album was Spirits Dancing in the Flesh, released in June 1990, for which the band was Carlos, Peraza, Thompson, returning member Alex Ligertwood, drummer Walfredo Reyes, and bass player Benny Rietveld. A modest seller that made only the lower reaches of the Top 100, it marked the end of the band’s 22-year tenure at Columbia Records.
In 1991, Santana signed to Polydor Records, which, in April 1992, released the band’s 16th studio album, Milagro. The lineup was Carlos, Thompson, Ligertwood, Reyes, Rietvald, and percussionist Karl Perazzo. Polydor was not able to reverse the band’s commercial decline, as the album became Santana’s first new studio release not to reach the Top 100. The group followed in November 1993 with Sacred Fire - Live in South America, which featured Carlos, Thompson, Ligertwood, Reyes, Perazzo, singer Vorriece Cooper, bass player Myron Dove, and guitarist Jorge Santana, Carlos’ brother. The album barely made the charts. In 1994, Carlos, Jorge, and their nephew Carlos Hernandez, released Santana Brothers, another marginal chart entry. The same year, Areas, Carabello, Rolie, and Shrieve formed a band called Abraxas and released the album Abraxas Pool, which did not chart.
Santana left Polydor and signed briefly to EMI before moving to Arista Records, run by Clive Davis, who had been president of Columbia during the band’s heyday. Carlos and Davis put together Supernatural, which was stuffed with appearances by high-profile guest stars including Eagle-Eye Cherry, Wyclef Jean, Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Everlast, and Dave Matthews. Arista released the album in June 1999, followed by the single “Smooth” featuring Rob Thomas. Album and single hit number one and in 2000, a second single, “Maria Maria,” also topped the charts. Supernatural's sales exploded, taking it past ten million copies and the album garnered eleven Grammy nominations. Santana won eight Grammys, for Record of the Year ("Smooth"), Album of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (“Maria Maria”), Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (“Smooth”), Best Pop Instrumental Performance (“El Faro”"), Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (“Put Your Lights On”), Best Rock Instrumental Performance (“The Calling”), and Best Rock Album, and “Smooth” won the Grammy for Song of the Year for authors Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur. The follow-up, Shaman, appeared in 2002.
In 2002, Santana released Shaman, revisiting the Supernatural format of guest artists including P.O.D., Seal, and others. Although the album was not the runaway success its predecessor had been, it still produced two radio-friendly hits: the infectious “The Game of Love” featuring Michelle Branch reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent many weeks at the top of the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart; then “Why Don’t You and I” featuring either Chad Kroeger from Nickelback or Alex Band from The Calling (the original and a remix with a different singer were combined towards chart performance) also reached the Hot 100 top ten. “The Game of Love” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
Most recently, Santana has also won three Latin Grammy Awards, and in 2004, he received the Latin Recording Academy’s prestigious “Person of the Year” honor. His latest album, and third for Arista, 2005's All That I Am, continues Carlos’ tradition of exciting collaborations with a diverse mix of fellow groundbreaking artists.
And with every award, every achievement, every accolade, Carlos Santana has handled his success with humility, generosity, and grace, hallmarks of his character both as a private individual and as a world citizen.
Less publicized, but equally as profound as his artistic legacy, is Santana’s long history of social activism and contributions time and funds to humanitarian causes. As a culmination of his decades of support for countless charities and non-profit agencies the world over, he and his wife of 30+ years, Deborah Santana, founded their Milagro Foundation in 1998. With over $1.8 million in grants to date, Milagro supports organizations promoting the welfare of underserved children in the areas of health, education, and the arts.
More recently Santana has become deeply involved in the fight against the AIDS pandemic in South Africa through a partnership with ANSA – Artists for New South Africa. In 2003 he and Deborah donated all of the proceeds from Santana’s American tour to the cause. Other organizations he has championed include Hispanic Education and Media Group, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, Childreach, Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, American Indian College Fund, Amnesty International, and the Los Angeles-based Museum of Tolerance.
Well into his fourth decade of recording and performing, Carlos Santana is at the pinnacle of his career, more vital and relevant than ever. He magnificently embodies both “old school” virtuosity and “new school” cool, continually reaching successive new generations of fans with his passionate music. His signature sound - fusing rock, jazz, blues, soul, Latin idioms, multi-cultural genres and more - is as unique as it is instantly identifiable. With his lifetime of music and achievement, Santana has become a cultural event - transcending genre, crossing cultures - creating the music that has become the soundtrack for the world.
Santana is back, and this time he’s almost all instrumental. He’s created his own record label, and for its first release, he’s done something a little different. In Shape Shifter (2012), his latest studio record, he mostly sheds the weight of lyrics to allow his music to speak for itself.
It’s always fascinating to see what music can say without using any words at all. In this instance, Santana uses modern instrumental rock to explore Native American beliefs and to show us how connected we are with the world and each other.
His huge, sweeping soundscapes paint the image of past tragedies while his mastery of the electric guitar manifests itself in gigantic riffs that revel in the majesty and joy of life in the present.
A wide range of musical styles are covered, from native chants in the title track to classic stadium rock in “Nomad” all the way to the very spicy salsa-influenced track “Macumba in Budapest.”
Shape Shifter is a very large, very ambitious project, and Santana’s wealth of experience shows itself worthwhile as he pushes out into ever new territory. As Santana’s music shape shifts, so do the boundaries in modern rock.